Category Archives: Watercolor

Salted Crimson

The following is a painting that I created especially for one of my brothers. I was trying to think of a painting that he would really want to put on his wall, whether his sister had painted it for him or not. And now that he’s received it, I can post my artwork without ruining the surprise:

enterprise star trek outer space spaceship

This is, admittedly, a bit of a poor photograph. I quickly snapped it before I wrapped it up to send, and did not check the photo before wrapping it. The top third of the photo should appear much less grey.

Paintings and drawings like these have always been a big challenge for me. Architectural shapes, as opposed organic shapes, cause so much more brow furrowing, frowning, and erasing. However, it was a great exercise and a reminder that I should practice drawing highly geometric forms more often. The background, however, greatly contrasts the tightly drawn ship. I used several layers of paint mixed with lots of water to create the nebulous shapes. In the first layer or two I sprinkled salt, which highlights watercolor’s unpredictability wonderfully. The texture in and around the light crimson nebula on the right side was largely created by adding salt just after painting. I brushed away the loose salt after drying and let the remaining salt adorn the paper.

I loved adding all the details to the ship. After I was done painting, I outlined choice areas in black ink, then moved on to colored pencil. By adding colored pencil over the top of watercolor, I can achieve detail, contrast, and effects that I cannot with watercolor alone.

Flowing amoebic forms, sharp geometric details, deep texture, and bright colors made this work of art fun and interesting to create, even though it was not one of my normal subjects. What have you created recently that was out of the ordinary?


Sketching for “Scalloped Owl”

My painting “Scalloped Owl” currently hangs in Lucy’s Art Emporium in Dover, New Hampshire. If you’re in the area, go visit Lucy’s! My paintings will be there until the 2nd of March (and there are great art exhibitions and gifts there all year round!).

I started this owl painting with a photograph of a barred owl from a book I got from the library.

I started with a realistic pencil sketch (as you see on the left, below). I got a feel for the general shapes in the owl, its posture and its feather patterns. Next I drew the stylized drawing you see on the right, which I based on the first drawing and the photograph combined, as well as a good dose of imagination.

owl sketch pencil drawing

I emphasized the dark ring of feathers encircling the owl’s face, the very round and shiny eyes, the variegated bib of feathers about the owl’s neck, and the striped effect of the feathers on its body. I also added a background in the second drawing, experimenting with contrast, texture, and stroke direction. The eyes in the second sketch remind me a bit of Raggedy Ann, an aspect which I enjoy in the drawing, but I didn’t wish to emphasize it in my final piece (below). I painted lots of dots and feathery details around the eyes, but not in the same eyelash pattern as in the drawing.

scalloped owl barred bird painting watercolor

In my final work, I combined my favorite aspects of the photograph and both the sketches. I exaggerated the rounded body, head, halves of the face, and eyes. This round quality kept the owl looking cute, which I wanted to achieve with this painting because that was my first reaction to the photograph I saw. I kept my palette limited to balance detail with simplicity. The photograph had a dark background, which I included in the second sketch, but in my final painting I chose to keep the darkest tones in the foreground and left the background light and subdued.

I plan to add more owls to my bird series. This one was a joy to paint, and I’d like to explore owls in flight, sleeping, in multiples, and perhaps even hunting. Do you have a favorite owl?

(I painted another owl, which you can read about here.)

*Update* The show at Lucy’s Art Emporium is over, but this painting is now available in my Etsy shop, matted to 8″x10″!

*Update* This painting has been purchased, but it is now available as a greeting card in my Etsy shop!

Mathematics Today: From a Folded Ornament to the Concept of 100

I’ve been fascinated with origami from a young age, and when I found these instructions for a folded paper flower ornament, I knew I had to try it. So while my sister and I folded and cut paper snowflakes one evening for some festive decorations, we also started cutting and folding the paper for this lovely creation. It took much longer than expected, so over the next several days I finished folding and assembling. When I finally finished, it looked like this:

origami ornament flowers ball

origami ornament flowers ball

Try it! Someday I’m going to make a great big one.

In other news, I’m working on more blog posts (still!)- for my Sketchbook Project sketchbook, a collage, and an owl painting. Stay tuned for those. Also, I’ve got an art opening to attend tomorrow evening at Lucy’s Art Emporium (poster by Lucy’s Art Emporium):

Flora Fauna Lucy's Art Emporium Dover NH Bird

If you’re in the Dover, NH area, check out the show! Lucy’s is a great little shop filled with handmade gifts. On the poster above, you can see one of the six paintings I have on display there. I loved painting all the layers of texture and deep golden hues into the bird’s belly and throat. That splash of color along with the bird’s smile makes me imagine that he’s about to burst into song.

Lastly, I’m still working on my Life List. I’m up to 39 of 100. I like to call that almost halfway finished (however, I don’t think I will feel that way when I reach the age of 39). Of course, since it is my own list, I don’t necessarily have to get to 100 to call it done, but I really like the sound, feel and…. concept of 100.

Proud Cardinal

I began my “Proud Cardinal” painting with a detailed pencil drawing. Many of my watercolors are started with a watery wash of color over blank paper, then a general pencil sketch, and then I dive right in to the first stages of painting. However, after drawing several sketches of cardinals, I felt like creating something more substantial in pencil as a beginning to a watercolor. (I love to draw with a mechanical pencil. No time sharpening = more time drawing.)

Next I added just a hint of cerulean sky. Here you can see my dreadful palette. Well, it would be shocking to some, but as my space is limited, so is the size of my palette. One of my favorite attributes of watercolor is its ability to be reconstituted and used again once dried. Once my palette becomes too crowded, I wipe down a section of the palette if I need to create a specific space for a color (like I did here, for the blue of the sky).

I added more color to the sky, and I added the first layer of red on the cardinal and brown on the branch. To the right of the painting in the photo, you can see a scrap of some junk mail from a collage I was creating at the same time, about which I will write later. Notice the texture in the sky, formed by the natural way that watercolor dries when I paint with lots of water. It will help form the shape of the clouds later, though at this point I was planning on leaving the sky as-is.

Atmospheric layers of yellow and blue were painted onto the branch for light and shade, and I painted another layer of red on the cardinal, in which I added more details to the feathers and got closer to the saturation of color I wanted to achieve.

I worked a lot of details into the clouds next because I felt that the painting lacked unity between the sky and the cardinal. The clouds have lots of detail over the top of the painting, fading to areas of less definition and color saturation at the bottom, giving depth to the painting’s background.

Next I started adding details to the cardinal in dark navy blue. Most of the details in dark blue were painted over the heaviest pencil details, emphasizing their shape and tone. At this point, I felt like the painting was really coming together.

Here you can see the painting in its penultimate stage, along with my palette again, in case you are interested in its evolution. I finished painting the navy details on the cardinal, and I added lots of bright red details to the feathers, particularly on the chest and back of the head. I saturated the red on the wings and tail, creating more contrast between the bird and the sky.

Although the cardinal was a bright, striking red, I felt a lack of atmospheric light in the painting. It appeared a little too flat and needed a delicate burst of warmth. I added a few areas of faint but bright yellow washes over the branch, the cardinal’s feathers, and his toes. Tiny dots of yellow and red followed the curves of the feathers for a final flourish.

proud cardinal bird original watercolor painting red

This painting is for sale in my Etsy shop.

Step by Step for “Rainbow Owl”

“Rainbow Owl” is a flatly patterned, colorful painting with a limited palette, created as part of my bird series of watercolors. It started with a wash of bright, loose stripes in orange, lilac, and pale green. I studied several photographs of owls and made various sketches to refresh my hand with the basic proportions, posture, and shape of an owl. After that, I made a simple outline drawing of an owl in pencil over the striped painting, and traced over it in ink.

I painted the background a dark grey,

and when it dried I drew leaf and berry shapes across the painting in ink.

I painted around these shapes with a very dark forest green.

Then, to bring more color unity to the painting, I painted the berries bright orange while the green was still slightly wet, so the brightness of the orange berries would vary over the painting and give it a little artificial depth.

After it dried, I signed it, and I thought I was done. Then I noticed three small dots of grey paint which had splashed into the body of the owl, marring the broad green stripe across the owl’s wings.

Removing watercolor from paper can be risky. I could end up with scuffed paper, which can happen if it is rubbed vigorously while wet, which would rather ruin my little painting. It would also be possible that I would remove, along with the dots, the color underneath, wrecking the soft wash of color. Replacing it can’t produce just the same effect as a fresh wash of paint. I considered adding more lines in ink to the back of the owl, as a fix, but I wanted to keep the simplicity of the painting intact. My choice then, was to try and remove the dots with a slightly damp mop brush. I think I ended up with great results, removing only a trivial amount of the color behind them. Here is the finished result:

I had great fun playing with these colors and shapes, adding little details of feathers in the outline of the owl and letting the watercolor swirl amongst itself to create variations over flatly painted areas of the composition. This painting is for sale on Etsy, along with many more of my paintings and drawings.

Edit: I’ve painted another owl and have written about it here.

Black Friday Weekend + Birds!

I just wanted to give a little shout about my shop on Etsy ( This extended weekend (now through 11/29/10) I’m offering FREE worldwide shipping on all my paintings! I’ve added several new paintings recently, and I’ll be adding more every day, so keep checking back! Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!

Some of the paintings for sale in my shop:

watercolor painting abstract yellow blue lavender

painting autumn trees leaves red orange yellow

watercolor painting fish jumping ocean blue green red orange

Additionally, I’ve got a new “making of” blog entry planned soon — for one of my owl paintings I’ve been working on! I’ve really been enjoying the little bird series I’ve started, and I plan to paint even more. I’ve got peacock, raven, and flamingo on my list, and I’m working on a couple of cardinals right now. Have any birds you’d like to see me paint or draw? Post in comments, and I’ll add them to my list!

Tail Feathers

tail feathers watercolor painting drawing bird finch orange purple